AI: The N-word

Can we say “the N word”?

Sunday, while covering the shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, CNN reporter Susan Candiotti read a post off of one of the suspects’ Facebook pages:

Today is two years that my dad has been gone shot by a fucking n****r it’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head.

Candiotti read the post verbatim, pausing briefly to warn viewers that she was about to use sensitive language.

She later apologized for using offensive language.

But should she have to? She’s a reporter, and her job is to report what is happening, not to report a palatable version of what is happening.

Is “the n word” so bad that we cannot even say it when quoting someone else? Certainly, decent people don’t use the word in conversation, but we can acknowledge when other people say it. It’s a painful word, I get that. but so is “Holocaust” and we don’t not use that. We don’t sanitize that. We don’t avoid discussing the name of the event because of its racial baggage. “The N word” exists, and yet we whisper it if we say it at all. We don’t want people to think that we’re the kind of people who use such language or think such things… we don’t even use such language or think such things when using other people’s language about how they think such things.

I feel like society wants to just make “the N-word” go away.

But on the other hand, I don’t feel like I can tell people to stop not saying it. It’s not a word that affects me personally. It’s a word that makes me uncomfortable. People who use it around me lose the privilege of continuing to use any language at all around me… or do anything around me at all. It’s that easy for me to make it go away. It’s not a word that is attached to me. It’s not used about me. It’s not used by people when they form opinions about me. It’s not used to justify violence against me.

Fortunately, CNN reporter Don Lemon agrees.

Because you are too polite. Because you’re too politically correct. You are too polite. This is racism free, so why not say it? Don’t feel bad for me. That only motivates me to speak the truth, right? Because you can’t — not everyone is going to agree with you.

And when I said, when I said that word, I’m going to say it again, the N-word, I just wish, I hate saying the N-word. I think it takes the value out of what that word ready means, especially when we are reporting it. And I don’t care what color the reporter is, I think someone should say, “That person calls someone n****r,” instead of saying the N-word, because I think it sanitizes it.

To which his colleague argues that we can’t do that because it’s too confusing for white people. To which I reply BULLSHIT. White people understand the difference between using impolite words in conversation and using impolite words when quoting horrible people. But maybe I’m naive.

What do you think? Was Susan Candiotti wrong in saying “fucking n****r” while quoting a guy who shot up Tulsa’s black neighborhoods? Is “the N word” conversation one that white people get to decide on? Should we quote horrible language the way it’s used or clean it up and let the audience figure out what was said? Is it even reasonable to think about offending an audience’s delicate sensibilities when talking about a shooting rampage? How’s this for some light and fun Tuesday conversation?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. "The N-word" is so fucking precious, isn't it? Oh, excuse me… "F-word precious." Everyone knows what word you mean, so using a euphemism is sort of ridiculous. And last I checked, black people are generally as able as everyone else to tell the difference between a reporting quoting a racist and the reporting being a racist. 
    Of course, there's some racist white folks out there (John Derbyshire!) who are desperate to be able to yell "nigger" at random black people and maybe would use the word's use on TV by reporters as an excuse… which is different from "confusing to white people" and more like "an excuse for racists to feign confusion to be more openly racist."

  2. Back in college, we read Huck Finn. Dear gods, the number of times I wound up having to read that damn novel.
    However, in my American Literature class, our teacher, a very sweet woman from New England, attempted to read the rant by Pap Finn, which she did in her little old New England Jewish accent. I, who had spent the past ten years in the south, finally stopped her and asked if I could read it.
    And I, characteristically, threw myself into it, not pausing for the "niggers" or any other word that came my way. Why? Because it wasn't my word. I wasn't talking, I was just giving voice to Pap's racist idiocy. I went with my full-voice, mock-Southern accent.
    I do not see a problem with reading nigger when you're quoting someone, especially about legitimate news. I agree, most folks are going to know the difference between "This reporter is repeating the statements of another person" and "This person is a racist fuckhead." However, I'm also aware of my priveledge… I can walk away from the argument without scars.

  3. I asked a historian about the convention for using the word in my academic work, and she told me that you need to strive for accuracy when you quote, even distasteful. IMHO, it's simply not as impactful to say, "so and so used a racial epithet" as to give a direct quote. Don't shoot the messenger, is what I'm saying.
    As long as you understant that "pollock"is OUR WORD!

      1. He's not talking about fish, he's talking about polack, the ethnic slur for Polish people. Spell-check strikes again.

  4. Using n-word hasn't change anything except our public vocabulary. It is better then the even more ambiguous "racial epithet."  I really hate that because I can't tell how bad it really was. 

    1. Does it really matter how 'bad' a racial epithet was?  Are some of them okay or not as hateful as others?  Do you need to know exactly what words were used in order to decide 'how much' of a racist someone is?  Is something okay if it's 'only a little racist?' 

      1. Does it really matter how 'bad' a racial epithet was?  Are some of them okay or not as hateful as others? 
        For black people? Hell yes.
        If I hear a white dude use the n-word as a slur I'm calling 911 immediately. That dude wants to be involved in an incident. Coon, darkey, or any other of a number of hate-terms could simply indicate total cluelessness, or a desire to annoy people without getting into a physical altercation.
        Granted such a hierarchy is not possible with most ethnic groups, because most ethic groups are only "blessed" with a single slur. But for blacks it's quite clear.

  5. The most important lesson my English teacher taught us was that swearing was fine, as long as it was used when called for. If there's one thing Americans aren't overly talented at, it's censoring themselves. Hell, I'd be grateful if suddenly instead of screaming out "Bitch" and " Whore" everyone said "The B word" or jokingly, "You're such a B". Because the FCC just loves the words Bitch and Whore, it's everywhere on television. And those words offend me (I used them here for emphasis, mind you, normally I do NOT use those words because they offend me, so my apologies if anyone thinks they are inappropriate). If I were black, I imagine I'd similarly be grateful that people were trying to be "politically correct". And a suggestion: check out the book called Town & Country Social Graces. One of the chapters is written by Anthony Bourdain, so don't worry about it being boring.

  6. Saying "the N-word" instead "nigger" when quoting someone in a news report infuriates me. If the subject said "nigger" and you quote them as saying "the N-word" you are misquoting them, misrepresnting the truth and (attempting) to lessen the harm that the original author or speaker intended. Racists that aggressively and deliberately use the word nigger aren't using it to be nice, they are using it to cause harm. Any attempt, however well intended, to reduce this harm to the gentle sensibilities of the listener are misguided. We should be shocked and outraged at such an utterance. To do otherwise is to help the original speaker by making their attack seem less hostile.

    1. But people who have the slur used against them ARE shocked and outraged and hurt when they hear those words.  It's not necessarily a rarity for them.  Repeating hate speech for the effect of shock directly and negatively affects people who have to deal with those words from racists regularly.

      1. Some people are seriously triggered by discussion of rape (usually, but not always, due to having been raped themselves), but this doesn't mean that we never discuss it. It's a relevant subject, and sometimes, to make progress, you need to make it explicit just how horrible actions were. Of course, it can be cruel to let people who might be triggered by this go in unwarned, which is why many blogs post trigger warnings for any discussion of rape. In this particular case, the reporter did warn about the language, though she didn't make it clear beforehand that it was this word. (Let's be honest – "fucking" doesn't trigger like TRIGGER WARNING "nigger" END WARNING does). It's not as easy to avoid a triggering word on television as it is in a blog (you have to be quick with the mute button), but the warning she did give was better than nothing.

        1. I recall a lot of dicsussion recently about the word "cunt" and its misogyinistic implications.  I know that some people refuse to use the word, finding it personally abhorrent or offensive.  But a lot of women are personally offended when that word is used in conversation as an insult, or even used "playfully" (and rightly so, in my opinion).
          I don't remember in any discussion of the use of "cunt" anybody at all suggesting that NOBODY should be using it at all, merely because it offended some people.  We all recognize when the word is being used derrogatorily and when it is being used intellectually.

          I would hate to live in a world where adults couldn't discuss the word "cunt" as it relates to migogyny unless they referred to it as "the c-word."  Likewise, an intellectual discussion or a journalistic use of the word "nigger" is perfectly appropriate.

          1. Sorry, but those words do not have the same historical contexts. I don't think it's a fair comparison.

          2. I don't understand why history would change my point.  We're still talking about intelligent, caring people using the word in discussion of racism.
            Is there any other word that has crossed that magical threshold of having so much baggage that we should not use it any more, even to discuss its history, meaning, and use?  Or is "nigger" the only one?

          3. History changes your point because the words don't have the same impact. It's apples and oranges. They have different histories and different issues.
            No one is saying we can't discuss its history, meaning, and use. People are saying the ways in which that discussion takes place need to be done with a sympathetic eye towards its unique history and potentially triggering/disturbing effects. Just because it doesn't seem to you to be a big deal does not mean it's not a big deal to other people, and what is being advocated here is to err on the side of caution when having this conversation.

          4. I agree with that, Will.  I think the advance warning that the journalist gave satisfies the concern you expressed.  She handled it with empathy and concern for the feelings of her viewers.

  7. Is the whole nation insane? Five people have just been shot, three have died. Two years ago, another man was shot and killed. Also a woman committed suicide. And the nation wants to discuss the finer points of nigger and fucking.

    1. We can talk about hate crimes. Killing people in cold blood because you hate them is something that's not offensive. Quoting those people is offensive.
      Maybe not a perfect anaolgy, but I am far more concerned for my safety when a guy starts raping women bloggers than when he calls those bloggers "cunts" on Facebook. But while talking about the gruesome details about these targeted rapes, they will quote him as saying "the c-word"… it's fucked up. So yeah, we really do need to have a conversation about the things we can say when we talk about hate.

      1. But when a guy starts killing women and it's being reported on the news, I honestly don't want to hear his direct quotes about women being cunts.  Having a news reporter repeat a serial murderer's referring  to women as cunts just addes to all the misogynist bullshit (all the little stuff that adds up day by day) that I have to wade through on top of being afraid for my life in a gender-motivated killing. 
        Reporting hate crime is necessary and frequently not done well (or even at all); verbatim repeating the hatred of the perpetrators serves, to some degree, to propagate their ideas and normalize them a bit.

        1. The point is not that we want to hear or not want to hear it. My point is that we freely discuss physical violence but sanitize speech. Is that even logical?

          1. It doesn't have to be logical to be harmful.  There's a very reall and pressing need to discuss hate crimes and the culture we live in that supports and encourages them.  There is no reason to repeate hate speech (specifically slurs used by racists) when having those discussions/reporting the news about those crimes.

    1. Another interpretation, which is admittedly less likely but still consistent with what she said, is that she was apologising for quoting hate speech, rather than the use of any specific word or words.
      Think of a phrase like "Go back to where you came from" shouted by a person of one ethnicity to a person of another, presumably non-indigenous, ethnicity. There are no swear words in that utterance. You have probably used every single word in that sentence while talking to your grandmother. But I would call that "offensive language".

  8. To quote Tim Minchin:
    "The other day, I saw the word 'fuck' on the front of the paper. And all they had to do to get it on the front page of the paper was spell it 'f**k'. Doesn't that still say 'fuck'? I'm pretty sure that still says 'fuck'. In fact, 'f**k' gets used to mean 'fuck' so often that 'f**k' means 'fuck' more than 'fuck' means 'fuck'.
    On the other hand, the protection afforded by the humble asterisk doesn't seem to apply to other words, even seemingly innocuous ones. Like, say, 'finger'. Perfectly innocuous word, right? But used in a sentence such as, say, 'I want to finger your mum', that word – used in this case as a verb, or 'doing word' – could be construed as offensive and worthy of censorship. But you would not get that sentence on the front page of the paper by spelling it 'f**ger'. And that's because it's the context in which the word is used, not the word itself, that is offensive."

      1. Exactly, using n doesn't help, it is like parents spelling out a conversation because they don't want the children to understand, the second they grow up it is pointless.  Their are two issues here which are being muddled: offensive and dehumanisation. I don't care much about offensive, 1. mostly it is people getting offended on the behalf of others, I mean how do black people actually feel about this? 2. turn off the radio, being offended gives one no rights. I care very much about dehumanisation, that is what is truly dangerous, here is Stephen Fry being brilliant on the danger of such language

        . So in summary, don't mind a reporter saying nigger in a news report, do care about black men being portrayed as criminals in media stories.

    1. Fuck is a swear word, it is not a slur.  Discussing the censoring or lack thereof of swear/curse words is not quite the same conversation as discussing not using/repeating slurs (words that are used specifically to marginalize specific groups of people).

  9. I like Louis CK's attitude on this.  Paraphrasing:  "When you use the phrase 'the N-word' you are putting the word 'nigger' in my head without having the courage to say it yourself."

    1. Except that Louis CK, being a white dude, doesn't get to decide when it's okay to use racial slurs.  Those slurs are not used against him, he doesn't get to recalim them or decide if/when they are appropriate to use.  Some black folks say that word is offensive and harmful, some say it's not; I lose nothing by not using it at all and not repeating it (and the hatred that it carries). 

      1. I understood that this conversation was not about using the word "nigger" in a conversational sense.  I agree that white people like me shouldn't really have a say in that discussion.  But when we're talking about a news report, or a discussion about the use of the word itself, I think we should go ahead and use the full word and avoid the abbreviation.

        1. That's where I'm disagreeing with you, though.  Making someone *think* a slur is not the same as giving voice to it out loud or explicitly in print.  Everyone knows what n****r is short for; but I refuse to write it out or say it because it's a slur (specifically one that is not used against me).  It's a bit of respect on my part, I guess; I can discuss the hate-filled speech of another person without repeating that speech verbatim, so that's what I choose to do.

      2. but saying "n-word" isn't saying anything different. You're just pronouncing it differently. You're not not-saying "nigger". You're not conveying something else. 

        1. If it weren't different, no one on this list would claim to object so strongly to the euphemism.  Using a euphemism shows that you are trying not to say the same hurtful things that racists say.

          1. But I'M not saying those words. Someone else is. and you're quoting them. 
            I think white people like to pretend that if they don't say "nigger" they're somehow protecting black people from being exposed to it. It's there. They hear it.  "The N word" feels more to me like white people trying to hide from the word. 

          2. Exactly.  It is necessary to critically discuss racist and hateful attitudes that permeate our culture and motivate people to carry out hate crimes.  It is not necessary to repeat their hateful ideas and speech verbatim in order to have that discussion.  I will not ignore racism and discussions of it, but I refuse to repeat hate speech in those discussions.

          3. But Elyse, you ARE saying a vile racist slur, over and over again.  And you are obviously a lovely person who has no intention of hurting anyone, but if you knew that someone was going to read your words and feel a visceral feeling of hurt and rage and injustice at a world that continues to oppress people of african descent, surely you would choose not to do so?
            To us white people, this can be an intellectual, theoretical argument – almost a joke.  And the fact that we can take it so lightly is precisely why this comment threat could be so hurtful to someone who experiences racism at the hands of white people every day.
            This is a public forum, in a moderate way.  CNN is a public forum in a major way.  Using hurtful words when we can't control how they will be interpreted is seriously problematic.

          4. I think context is hugely important. There's a huge difference between discussing a word and its use and actually USING that word as a weapon.
            I'm not advocating the use of ANY racial slur or allusion to a slur as part of a conversation about a group of people. But discussion that people use it at all, I think the only people you're protecting are the people who never have to hear it.
            Whoopi Goldberg discussed this on The View, and to paraphrase her, if the word makes you too uncomfortable to say it, you should consider why that is rather than not using the word when reporting a quote that someone else made.

          5. @Elyse, but you ARE saying those words when you repeat them verbatim.  It doesn't so much matter what your intention is, saying slurs, even 'in context' is still saying slurs.  If not saying slurs comes across as me hiding from them, I am okay with that appearance.  I am not going to start saying them in order to seem like I'm discussing the topic better/properly/more directly.  There is no reason for me to repeat hate speech.

        2. It is, of course, true, that one can be vilely racist while using only euphemisms.  And it is true that the euphemisms themselves can acqure an offensive meaning.  But then respectful people adjust their language again, just like we somehow get our minds around using new language like "tweet" and "app".

          1. @ Elyse, I'm trying to protect my young child.  While I agree the reporter shouldn't have to apologize, there should be warning.  You could also say that any adult would understand using the n-word and context, and youth wouldn't so why not just say "n-word"?  And I know some people say we shouldn't protect our children from harsh language, but my 3 YO (or even up to 12) is not going to understand, and may repeat the word with no understanding of context.

          2. If you are letting your 3 year old watch CNN covering the story of two men who went on a racially-motivated killing spree, I think your priorities are out of whack if your concern is that they might hear foul language.

          3. @ Elyse I actually don't have CNN so we don't watch cable.  But I do live in Tulsa and watch our local and national evening news while the 3 YO is in the living room playing (only 1 TV in the house).  If I had cable, I don't know why I wouldn't watch CNN with her around, I'm hoping she'll grow up watching the news, especially dealing with her own city.  None of our local reporting has been graphic, in speech or scene (too watered down really).

          4. oh, and it's not that she's sitting there watching it.  She doesn't follow the news, but she does hear and repeat words.  As I said below, I don't think the reporter needs to apologize, she was reporting, but I do appreciate the warning.  I also think it's fine to replace it with the n-word; either option.

        3. If humans were perfect machines, this would be true, but the mind has its quirks in interpreting speech. In particular, swear words (whether or not they're slurs) are processed by the emotional part of the brain rather than the rational part. For someone who's experienced the N-word being used to demean, dehumanize, and belittle them their whole life, whenever they hear it – in any context – their mind will bring up all the emotions that attached to their experience with that word.
          (I remember hearing of a study about this – I'll get back and post a reference if I can find it again.)

      3. I'm reminded of the famous line from Blazing Saddles where an elderly lady played by Jessamine Milner utters the famous line to Cleavon Little's character, Bart: "Up yours, nigger."
        She had a lot of trouble delivering that line, as I'm sure most of us would. The director, Mel Brooks, eventually managed to convince her that if you're going to depict (and mock for comedic effect) prejudice, that's the sort of thing you have to say.
        But here's the question I want to ask you: There were several screenwriters who worked on that movie. Would it make a difference whether the line was written by Mel Brooks or by Richard Pryor? The effect is the same.

  10. It may not be logical, but if people make it the most taboo word ever, then it does become all that more shocking when people do use it. 
    I have heard of teachers using racial slurs in the classroom with the best of intentions because they are teaching a book that uses racial slurs.  And because everyone in the class knows they are taboo words, they giggle and feel embarassed, and the children in the class against whom the racial slur is usually directed feel alienated and humiliated.
    Not to mention that smart-ass racists could choose to smugly quote other racists who use that word, in a way that hurts and alienates people of african descent.
    So despite the fact that I don't really get why some words have more power than others, and why hating some groups is more acceptible (to the well-intentioned clueless public) than others, I don't feel that white people are in any position to challenge the taboo on this particular word.

    1. I absolutely agree with you here.  If a slur isn't used against me, I don't really get a say on it's 'appropriateness' or why/ when it should or shouldn't be used; only folks that are actively hurt by it get to dictate that (and since, they're not a monolith, they will probably disagree about it, but I still don't get to use those words).  If that seems unfair, I'm pretty sure it's still more comfortable to be 'unable' to use slurs than to have them leveled at me; and I'm willing to accept that 'unfairness' until no one has to deal with slurs being used against them at all and they're all just harmless words for everyone.
      I really don't see why a direct quote of his facebook rant was needed, anyway.  The major story is that five people were shot and three are dead, a supporting detail is that one of the shooters had a racist rant on his facebook page regarding his father being shot by a black man two years ago.  That gets the point across and no one who has slurs hurled at them regularly had to deal with hearing one from the nightly news.

  11. The newspaper where I live won't report the names of Native American sports teams. So it's Washington and Atlanta, but never Redskins and Braves. I agree that the team names are offensive, but newspapers are there to report the truth, not to tweak it for us.

      1. You don't see any issues with the survey methodology there? Plus, this is one poll, and there are many other polls that have very different numbers. See: (In regards to this particular article, I should point out that the Seminole Indians in Florida are one of the richest ethinic groups in the United States, having earned their money through casinos and ownership of Hard Rock. So it doesn't surprise me that they don't mind the publicity of their tribal name and image being used–they are known to have utilized their tribal identity to make money. There's a great book called High Stakes by Jessica Catellino on the history and culture of Seminole Indians in Florida).
        There are certainly many Native American Indians who are fine with it, and many others who are not. To say that an "overwhelming majority" based on a telephone poll of 768 Indians that did not control for other factors (like on/off reservation) is a misrepresentation.

  12. The Tim Minchin quote is rather good, and reminded me of George Carlin's views on political correctness and the use of language. He had a lot to say about it, and I tried to find quotes, but mostly found links to videos. Here's one I found though:  "Political correctness is America's newest form of intolerance, and it's especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people's language with strict codes and rigid rules. I'm not sure that's the way to fight discrimination. I'm not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech."

    1. "Political correctness" isn't particularly new – it used to be called politeness.  And trying to persuade well-intentioned people to avoid using words and phrases that hurt people is hardly a form of intolerance.  The only reason people might see this as intolerance is if they think they have a right not to experience the consequences of huring other people.

      1. I agree, the term politically correct used to mean we don't use words like "retard" and such, now that's suddenly a bad thing somehow. I prefer PC to rudeness!

      2. Yeah, no kidding. Once the bad folks established "PC" as a bad thing, it gave them licence to be giant assholes and call it "politically incorrect" and it made their bigotry into "rebellion in the name of free speech."

        1. Yes, that's exactly it. Can you say Fox News? I am so tired of common civility being called "PC"!

    2. No one HAS to alter their speech, but when someone (or a lot of someone's) mention that specific words are used as slurs against them, frequently accompanied by physical violence and with a long history of being used to specifically marginalize them; and that they would prefer if other folks would not use them because they are harmful and propagate harmful ideas, it's a reasonable request (and folks who don't share that marginalization don't really get to decide if it's harmful or not). 
      If you want to keep using slurs, you can keep using slurs, but when it's been pointed out over and over again that those words are harmful to a lot of people, more than a few folks will probably call you out on your continued use of them.  Being 'discriminated against' because you 'can't' use slurs socially is in NO WAY even close to having slurs used to marginalize you.  It's asking you to be inconvenienced for a bit while you get into new speech habits that are less harmful to other human beings (and really, if it's a huge inconvenience for you NOT to use slurs regularly, then maybe you're not as anti-racist/anti-sexist as you think you are).

  13. I've seen news stories show the exact quote in print on the screen but have the reporter censor themselves. That's a fair medium. I would also be curious to see a show of hands among the commenters: how many are black? I mean, if we don't want a panel of men deciding what to do with women's health care……..

    1. I'm not a "foul Whitey"… :) I'm Hispanic, and I can't even speak for other Hispanics. I don't think anyone here is trying to decide for anyone else what is or isn't offensive to them. On the other hand, when you say "the N-word" everyone already knows what you mean, it isn't like you're actually avoiding the word in a real way, plus it often sounds like a grown-up saying "pee-pee" instead of "cock" or at least "penis."

      1. I agree that's true in general, but speaking to this particular story – obviously it was a racist being quoted, and my point was that reporters should "tone it down" if they're to refer to the word at all. In fact no racist would actually yell at a black person and say, "HEY, N-WORD"! No, the euphamism is normally only used when a racist is being quoted.

      2. I agree with you there – it does sound horribly coy, like all new euphemisms.*  As you can see by my comments, I'd rather describe the term as insulting or racist than use "the n-word" [shudder].  But my sense of linguistic aesthetics doesn't, luckily, force me to use a term other people find so insulting.
        * It's funny how non-euphemistic "toilet" and "bathroom" now sound, isn't it?

  14. The reporter of course should not have to apologize, she was reporting!  But, I do want warning before "sensitive" language is said.  Coincidentally, I live in Tulsa and have a 3 YO who has repeated every goddamn word she's heard since she was just over 1.  I never heard the n-word growing up or other racial slurs, and cannot even say them (or know of many).  I'd prefer my children not hear these young, because they don't understand the context, and may try to use them without understanding any meaning.  So while there is reason to use the word, there should be warning and it should be said in context (like this case; sometimes though, racists people will take others' words and "repeat" them and try to get away with racists comments under a reporting guise, which is not appropriate).

  15. Have you ever heard a group of racists complaining about not being able to use the N-word because this is exactly what they sound like.
    A couple of things:
    1. As a member of the privleged class you never get to tell the discriminated minority what usage of racist epitaths they are allowed to be offended against,
    2. If you are a member of that discriminated minority "it doesn't offend me" is still not good enough. 
    These are not words that are offensive to some religious pruitans who want to make everyone follow their religious beliefs, these are words designed to cause harm and there is a strong argument that news organisations should not help racists to cause more harm or use those words and thus help normalise their usage.
    So yeah I don't have a problem with a newspaper using a euphemism in place of a racist or sexist slur. I'm not sure that you are ever justified in using those slurs but at the very least you must take the utmost care to make sure that it is clear that the words you are using are offensive and should not be used. Maybe Susan Candiotti did that but I do not get to make that call and no one in this thread has the right to demand news organisations use racist language or complain when the affected minority asks for that language not to be used. 

    1. 1st I am male and white so I do classify on the "priviledge class" you mention, so be free to take my comments with salt. ;-)
      But I am also a Brazilian, so in fact I am a bit detached of the hole 'n-word' debate.
      As such I believe that words by themselves don't really "hurt", intention do. I read once an article that stated that racists were using the word "canadian" to mean what they used to mean with the "n-word". Should the word canadian be also forbiden?
      This article is stating a use of the said word in witch the intention is exactly the oposite, the reporter was denouncing a use of the said word. The intention, at first sight at least is to opose racism, so in my view this is (or maybe should be) acceptable.
      Here in brazil the affirmative movement tried to do the reverse of forbiding the use of the equivalent "n-word", they tried to attach good meanings using slogans "proud to be N…" and other campains. Sure the history of Brazil is very different from the American, and racism here have a very different way of showing itself.
      I believe that fighting a word is a like fighting the simptome instead of fighting the disease, sure if you take a pain killer to heal that pain in the chest, but in the end of the day you'll still die of that heart attack. The "n-work" is a simptom, to forbid the use compleatly will make everyone feel better, but it will not help to solve the racism problem.

  16. HAH!!!! HAAAAAAH!!!! (I actually yelled at my computer…)
    My last comment got caught in moderation… because here we can say "nigger" but one of the three words I used to describe guy bits got flagged? I'm guessing it is the scientifically-correct word, which is going to make me laugh so so so hard. 

    1. I love me some Tim Wise.  Thanks for linking to that clip.
      However, only a small portion of it touched on what we are discussing here.  He says that he will use the word when quoting others — but only in print.  He won't ever vocalize it, even when quoting others.  That's a distinction that he's made, and I can understand his point of view.  However the bulk of his discussion addresses the casual use of the word, which is not the context of this discussion.
      One person above suggested that solution for the purposes of news broadcasting — print the quote but don't orally repeat the word.  But most of those arguing against the use of the word here in this thread are saying something else:  that there is almost no context in which that word should ever be used — especially by those who are not black.  I don't think Tim's comments support that view.

      1. I am of the opinion that if you're not in the group that has a particular slur used against you, you don't get to use that slur. Period.
        And, as I said upthread, even in this particular case, I don't think it was necessary to use that word:
        The major story is that five people were shot and three are dead, a supporting detail is that one of the shooters had a racist rant on his facebook page regarding his father being shot by a black man two years ago.  That gets the point across and no one who has slurs hurled at them regularly had to deal with hearing one from the nightly news.

      2. I think it's precisely relevant to what's being discussed in this thread. Yes, he talks about casual use of the word, but he also talks about how the word is embedded in a specific history that makes white people vocalizing it problematic, regardless of the context. I think Tim is spot on that vocalizing it (as the newscaster did) is something very different from quoting it in print. I agree with the commenters above that (a) it was not really necessary to even read the Facebook screed and (b) if they insited on reporting it, they could have put a screen capture or a quote up on the screen and described it.

        1. As I said, he has justified using the word in the journalistic context, which was the point of this thread.  He also says that he will not use the word orally, because it sounds worse than when written.  But if you look at the arguments above that oppose the use of the word, most are based on logic that does not distinguish between verbal and oral uses.   Almost all of the arguments from that side of this debate would disapprove of Tim's use even in written form.

          Tim Wise is saying that journalism is an acceptable context in which to use the word.  He also says that oral use is too harsh — which is a subjective decision on his part and which is a separate discussion from most of what's occurred here in this thread.

          1. That's not what you said, what you said was that the majority of the video was irrelevant to the AI question and the comments that followed. My linking of the video was not in reponse to the other commenters, but in response to the AI question. When I am engaging with other commenters, I reply directly to their comments. ;)
            I think the entire video is relevant to the AI question because it gets at the problem of white people using the word and how it's still a problem even in journalistic contexts (though less so in print than verbal).

          2. I stand behind what I said.  If the majority of Tim's comments applied to this discussion, he would not be able to justify using it even in journalistic contexts.  But he does use the word to quote others.  His distinction between verbal and oral uses is another discussion.
            [Sorry if this comment appears out of order.  It appears that our back-and-forth comments have exceeded the allowed nesting.  So I replied to my own comment.  I don't know in what order this will appear.]
            [Also, I met Tim at NetRoots 2 years ago and had a great conversation with him.  His speech there was electrifying.  I'm not kidding when I say I love him.]

          3. I think we just see this differently, and that's okay. Honestly, I understand both sides of this argument, and though I tend more toward one side than the other, I think there's valid points on both sides. 
            And I <3 Tim Wise, too. =)

      3. The only context in which I think it’s appropriate for a white person to say the word is if you’re an actor (or reader) portraying a character who uses the word. So if you’re reading Huckleberry Finn aloud for a “books on tape,” or “Selected Shorts,” I’d say it’s probably OK.

        But even then, you have to consider the context and the audience. If I were teaching in a school where the white kids were not exactly understanding of what black kids go through, or even in a mostly-black school where the kids had not reached the state of consciousness to deal with it, I’d be wary of reading, or having them read, something with that word in it.

        I can’t stop you from using whatever words you want to use. But I will judge you by the words you choose to use. Just as I will judge you by how you respond to someone saying it makes them uncomfortable to be hit on at 4:00 a.m. in a strange town.

        1. Why does an actor reading someone else's words get to say it, but a news reporter reading someone else's words does not?  I'm not sure why you draw the distinction.

          I can see your point about reading Huck Finn.  There's an educational aspect to that use (plus, a respect for artistic integrity).  It seems to me that you can make a similar argument for a journalistic use of the word.  It can be important to understanding our world.

  17. It probably seems like a brave stance to say "I'll never use that word, ever!"… but to me it seems like the exact opposite. It seems to me like people are trying to erase racism in their own life by avoiding the use of certain words. On the other hand how do we really address problems on the personal level, as opposed to dealing with them as an abstract, when we start out by self-censoring the way we think about the problem on a foundational level?

    1. I'm not sure I understand quite what you're saying.
      I think that self-censoring in order to not repeat hate speech is a first step to changing the way we participate in the racist system we live and really examining the ways in which we propagate such racism.  I'm certainly not saying that by eliminating slurs from our speech the job is done (it's only a very small first step; as I think you are saying, there are also other huge endemic problems to be addressed and dismantled), but I see no way that continuing to use racial slurs can be compatable with working to dismantle systemic racism. 

      1. I disagree with the idea that self-censorship is necessarily a step AT ALL. Remember, we're not talking about the use of racial slurs AS slurs. We're talking about using them at all, or completely avoiding the use even when quoting other people, even when discussing racism itself. After all, eliminating the word doesn't eliminate the ugly thoughts and feelings behind it. 

  18. I think when we have black people in the media telling us to stop saying "n word" because it's a mask that we're using to avoid having a conversation about racism, we should listen to that and stop pretending that saying "n word" protects anyone other than the people who have the privelige of not hearing the word if they never use it themselves.

    1. So white people can help end racism by saying the n word and the victims of hearing racial epitaphs are again the white people who would not otherwise be exposed to racsim.
      Wow. Seriously. Wow.
      I think I'm done here. 

      1. That was nonsensical and rude.  [Plus, you meant "epithet" rather than "epigraph."]  I think I'm glad you're done here.
        Aside from that, I would like to say that I'm impressed by this discussion.  It's a heavy topic, and passions run deep.  But with the exception of Tortorific, nobody has lost  it.  I don't comment here often (but I had an account, so I must have some time in the past), but I am impressed.  High quality discussion.

      2. Um… no. That's not what I'm saying. This isn't "white people get to say whatever they want", but in context, in a context of people quoting racists, white people who don't like the word get to not hear it and not say it and not discuss it by changing it to "the n word". You're not changing anything by changing the word. You haven't changed the offense intended by the statement by not saying the word THAT SOMEONE ELSE SAID. 
        Whoopi Goldberg explains it better than I do here:

        Goldberg did most of the talking in this segment, arguing that calling it “‘The N-Word’ – it’s cute…it’s part of our history. Every time people try to make it sound better or more acceptable – let’s call it what it is.” Joy Behar interjected at this point, voicing what seems to be the fear of many Caucasian people discussing the word — that it’s different for them to use it, even when quoting somebody else. “I never liked the word, ever,” she said emphatically. That may be so, Whoopi returned, but “this idea that taking it out makes it somehow better is ridiculous. It’s a part of the culture. Let us speak on it…the word is real, and if it makes people uncomfortable you have to deal with why it makes you uncomfortable.”

        1. I don't know why I came back but I did. Let me try to explain the problems with your argument:
          You're still ignoring the actual victims, black people. The people who actually have that word yelled at them, the people who are the actual victims of the racism you want to quote. We aren't not saying the word because WE don't like it, we are not saying it because the victims don't like it, because we want to avoid normalising the word, because whenever someone says that word it should be seen as horrible because its meaning is horrible. Do you understand? the reason we say "n-word" is because we are trying to reinforce that it is not acceptable to use that word. Claiming that we don't say it just because we don't like it and want to protect ourselves from racism is a ridiculous straw man argument and worthy only of the responce I posted above. 
          Claiming that we need to quote the use of the word correctly in order to have a conversation about racism is equally ridiculous. I don't honestly think it needs to be addressed. There are times when it may be appropriate as I said above but neither you nor I gets to make that call.
          I had another post further up which you may have missed but I'll summarise my points:
          1. We don't get to decide when it is or is not acceptable to use the n-word and as white people without any releavnt expertise black people might want to call upon to help them make that decision we should not have ANY voice in that conversation.
          2. It is also not an acceptable argument for a black person to say "I'm not offended – therefore it is OK" as said elsewhere Whoopi Goldberg is not allowed to make decisions for black people as a whole. Black people are allowed to be offended by the usage of the word, even in the context of quoting a reply that was meant to be seen as racist, being black does not give anyone a right to dismiss their concerns.
          Is what the reporter said acceptable – I don't know and I don't get to say. That doesn't mean though that you can dismiss any arguments against your position as defending white people. That is offensive.

    2. By "black people" you mean Whoopi Goldberg, who, oddly enough, does not speak for all black people. 
      I think this comment thread lacks some important view points, most notably those of people of colour – and claiming your token black celebrity as proof that you know what you are talking about is problematic.

      1. Good point, Kaloikagathoi.  No individual black speaks for all black people.  Including those who would be offended by the word "nigger."   Good thing that Elyse's point wasn't about popularity.  Her point was that use of the word in the context of discussing racism, or in the context of journalism is OK, and that some blacks actually agree.  It was just another bit of support for Elyse's point.
        If anything, those on this thread who are saying that it is never OK for a non-black to use the word are guilty of generalizing from a subset of blacks who, they imagine, would be upset by the use of the word in a journalistic setting.

        1. Whoopi Goldberg is, however, a particularly poor spokesperson for african americans.  There is a reason she is such a huge celebrity – she is a good actor, but she also has a habit of not annoying people in power.  I'm assuming everyone remembers her "rape-rape" comment.  Polanski is powerful; she acted as his "feminist" apologist.  Her kind permission to her white friends to use a racist slur doesn't convince me that I should use it unnecessarily.

      2. She may not get to speak for all black people, but the only black people actually quoted on this thread agree with her.
        And in my experience they're pretty typical. I'll grant it's anecdotal, but my anecdote isn't that I had this one really good friend in college who totally opened up my eyes about race. It's that 95% of my classmates from K-12 were black. The closest thing I had to a girlfriend was black. I work at two retail jobs, both with majority black co-workers and majority black customers. I don't drive, I take the bus, and almost all my co-riders are black. Between Christmas and Easter there were litterally zero times when I, whitest white boy ever, was technically in the majority group in any building or vehicle I was in.
        And most of them take the view that white racism is a terible threat to their community. Having reporters white-wash that racism (pun intended) by replacing the most powerful hate-term with some wimpy euphemism is not something they are gonna be cool with. They need everyone to know that this guy is the kind of guy the death sentence was designed for.

        1. You don't find it the least bit ironic invoking capital punishment in your argument when it is disproportionately targetted at poor, black men?
          Also, I don't think you'd get much argument here that there are black people who agree with Whoopi. That's not really the issue, though. The issue is what about the people who don't agree with her and find white people saying the word, even in the context of reporting or journalism or critical discussion of race, jarring, unsettling, and possibly triggering. Should we just ignore those that feel that way and when they raise objections tell them "I'm just quoting!" as if that excuses how it makes them feel?

          1. This isn't an English paper. It's not an academic subject. It's reality. Irony is irrelevent. In fact the irony is actually a reason to execute the bastards. There are two ways to change that proportion: execute fewer black people (much as I like this, it's not gonna happen in Oklahoma), and execute more white boys.
            As for the many, many black people offended by the reporter's comments, who are they? This thread is full of white liberals, and a latino, willing to be offended on their behalf. The black site I follow,, hasn't even mentioned this aspect of the story.

          2. Talk about a false dichotomy! Another option is abolishing the death penalty completely, but I suppose that's a topic for another AI. Regardless, irony is not only for academic or English classes, and I find your anti-intellectualism to be quite obnoxious.
            I'm not going to go out and find black people who disagree with you because that's not the fucking point. It really doesn't matter if most or all black people agree with Whoopi Goldberg or not. There are ways of talking about these issues without doing them disservice and without possibly triggering people. One way would be a warning. Another way could be saying "the N-word" (as childish as that sounds). Another way could be quoting it (though I'm unsure how that works when you're just discussing and not actually quoting). It's a complex issue with many differing but valid opinions on all sides (except the person who complained about their 3-year-old hearing it on CNN….I mean that's just damned stupid).

  19. Methinks reporters should strive to be as accurate as they can be. She also warned the audience she was going to use rough language for the purposes of giving context. I think it was appropriate in this circumstance.
    That said, this is kind of  a stupid question but does it say if this man's facebook data was set to private or if it was public? Do police have access to facebook data even if it's set to private?

    1. Sorry, got into a conversation, while composing message and duplicated your reference. 

  20. Context matters, if you're using the word in a context that makes you sound racist, then you're using it wrong. 

  21. I feel that as a reporter she had the obligation to quote it exactly as written. That's not to say it is okay to just use such charged words will-nilly. The man shot up a neighborhood for one reason, racism. To put such a fine point on the story is was necessary to show this. To censor herself on the off-chance some people might be offended? I would think the families of the victims might appreciate the truth being broadcasted in all it's uglyness. If you're more offended by the word "nigger" in her reporting than the fact that people are dead or injured because of racism, then you have the problem.

  22. It's my impression that the use of the term "N-word" as a substitute for actually saying "nigger" isn't really to spare black folk any distress but to spare the speaker the distress of possibly being perceived as someone who'd use the word "nigger". And what it does is give the word more power to hurt. If you're quoting somebody, I think it's your duty to quote them accurately and show the full cretinousness of the person being quoted.
    I don't think you should ever, for any reason call anybody "nigger" but in that circumstance, I don't think yelling "N-word!" at somebody would be much better.
    The whole "the word that shall not be spoken" routine just gives the people who think it's a perfectly fine word to use power over us.
    As they say: opinions are like arseholes – everybody's got one and everyone thinks theirs doesn't stink. The above is mine. (Opinion, that is – not my arsehole).

  23. I think this comment thread has gone as far as it can.  I just don't see how a bunch of non-black commenters can sort out what should or should not be offensive to black people.  I get that there is a possibility that white people, by using this euphemism, may be serving themselves more than anyone else, but without some serious input by black commenters we can't know if the euphemism also serves the interests of black people.  Obviously, if quoting a racist's use of the word directly were important for reporting accuracy, most people would probably be fine with it.  But when it's not even necessay, and when there is strong evidence that it might unnecessarily upset people who are on the receiving end of racism all the time, it seems reasonable to avoid using the word until a universal statement by a huge sample of african-americans tells us it's all fine.

  24. Was Stewart Lee an answer on the very popular "whos that noisy" or was it his partner Richard Herring?

  25. In this case, the person who posted the comment was being deliberately insulting so using an insulting word was valid.  I gather it wasn't meant to be a post that did anything but express ire.

  26. When your documenting something, espeically if you are quoting, you have to use the the actual word. Obviously you  need to take, time place and audince into concideration. But a reporter, reporting a direct quote, no other choice.  

  27. While racism may be blatant in some places, it's grown much more subersive as well. You just know Fox News would have a field day with the N word if it suddenly became un-taboo to say. Did you not see Juan Williams get booed and laughed at when he dare suggest Gingrich was belittling people with his "Food stamp President" remark? I'd rather be a too-polite whitey than give Fox News the excuse to use a word under the pretense that they're just quoting someone else.

  28. Whatever words you choose to use, and whatever the reasons for your choice, you just have to own the consequences. If you choose not to self-censor your quoting of a slur, you have to be prepared for some members of the class that slur is most often directed towards to be hurt by that choice. If you choose to self-censor, you have to be prepared for some members of that class to criticize you for beating around the proverbial bush. When these people come to you with their pain or their criticisms, you must not get defensive and attempt to justify your choice. It is no longer about you. At most, you must admit that your choice had consequences, and take ownership of the negative. You must listen to those who wish to express themselves, and help them be heard.
    Fundamentally, there is no way for a member of a privileged group to "properly" deal with a slur against a marginalized group. Avoidance is no good either, because that does not allow for growth and improvement on a personal or societal level. Sometimes privilege means being tarnished simply by virtue of the social environment you are a part of.

    1. Seconding Kammy here. Wonderful comment, and I think you just helped me figure out why I was struggling with this topic. Thanks.

  29. Thinking about this, the bottom line for me (a white person) is this:

    I want the area around me (ideally, the world around me) to be a “hostile environment” for racists and racism. I want them to feel like nobody is going to support them. I want them to worry that if they express or act on their racist thoughts, everyone around them is going to ostracize them or jump on them, and that they’ll lose their jobs, their friends, and maybe even their families. (Back when I was growing up, it was the other way around.) I want them to feel that they’ll get no sympathy from anyone around them for their racism.

    I can’t change their thinking, but I’d like to at least shame or intimidate them into controlling their behavior. Maybe they’d glower and get ulcers, but that would still be an improvement on what we have now.

    Making the “N-word” taboo is simply one (arguably small) part of that. At least for non-blacks, there’s almost no reason to use it except to express overt racism, so making it unacceptable is one (but only one) step towards making the racism itself unacceptable.

  30. My litmus test for offensive language is imagining saying it to someone in person. I wonder how many people commenting here would walk right up to a black person and say any sentence at all containing the word nigger. Even if it was in reference to this post. I sure wouldn't.

    1. I don't generally walk up to random strangers and start talking about the politics of race, so I'm thinking your hypothetical is sort of silly. The black people I've known/worked with/lived with haven't freaked out when hearing "nigger" in the context of a non-racist talking about racism and the words that racists actually use. 
      That, and one of the top-ten funniest things I've ever heard or seen was when a guy who could only have been more white if he was either albino or transparent, and from North Carolina, decided to say "wassup my niggas" and it came out all drawled and "what's up my niggerrrrrs." I don't remember the context of the statement, but I remember everyone laughing. Black, white, and Hispanic. One guy who happens to be black was laughing so hard that he fell down and actually rolled a few feet, since we were standing on an incline. 
      Non-whites aren't generally excessively sensitive to words… the same as white people, surprisingly. 

  31. Interesting discussion.  I have no problem with using the "n-word" instead of the actual slur (which I cannot bring myself to type).  I am a Black female and understand perfectly well how hurtful that term is.  I cannot stand it when Black rappers/movie stars use it and cannot stand it when racists use it.
    I don't see anything wrong with Ms. Candiotti apologizing for using a slur — she felt uncomfortable as I am sure many other reporters would (although I am sure this may not be sure for Fox News folks).
    But I get Elyse's point that it is almost childish to use the term "n-word" instead of the actual slur since everyone knows what you mean.  Both sides have valid points.   

  32. I can imagine a group of third-graders in class talking about appropriate and non-appropriate language use on the playgroung and using "the n-word" as a stand-in, and I'm comfortable with them doing that.  I am not comfortable with them using the word.  (How about on Sesame Street?)
    Do we consider it appropriate to say "trigger warning" when about to broach certain topics?  Why?  Because words have power, and we recognize that sometimes even saying the words can bring distress to people with certain experiences.  And we try to be aware, and mindful, and respectful.
    It is my opinion that if the reporter is on a newscast that allows the word "fucking" to be used, then no words are off-limits, and in this case it is appropriate for her to quote the statement verbatim.  But there are words we, as considerate people, should avoid.  I don't flippantly say "fag" around my gay male friends, even in jest, because I know there are individuals who have been threatened by people using the term and I know it can cause strong hurt emotions.  But how can we take that sort of power away from the word if we don't use it?  Perhaps the word starts losing power when people in the maligned group use it with each other, then use it to self-identify, then allow allies to use it without them taking offense, then ask that others use it to describe them?  (I'm thinking of terms like "bitch," "queer," and even "cunt.")
    It's tricky, and I don't really know how this stuff works, but I do find this discussion a little weird and one-sided–like if we were talking about racist language use among Japanese-Americans or something, but no one discussing it was Japanese-American…

  33. I am DJ Swann, I. I am the leader of THE STOP USING THE N WORD ! movement. As I am sure you are aware, using the N word is a problem in our communities. Moreover, our youth are allowing people of other persuasions to use this epitaph in their regard. I implore you to assist me in my endeavor to eradicate this specific vernacular from our vocabulary. I have started a petition, Stop Using The N Word !, on , I created an album, Stop Using The N Word !, which is available on iTunes and and I made a cloud. In the cloud below you will find some solutions and information on how to access a ground breaking, youth friendly video.

    Please, sign the petition, support the movement, share this information and make sure that everyone you know watches the video. Remember, each one teach one and it takes a village to raise a child.

    Thank you,

    DJ Swann, I

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